KUALA LUMPUR, May 18 — Tan Sri Mohd Bakke Salleh today said he had decided to only send a text message in 2009 to Datuk Seri Najib Razak to inform why he was resigning as 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) chairman, as he was suspicious that the then prime minister Najib had personal interest in the government-owned firm 1MDB’s US$1 billion “investment”.
Bakke, who was a former 1MDB chairman briefly in 2009, said this while testifying as the 15th prosecution witness in Najib’s trial over the misappropriation of more than RM2 billion of 1MDB funds.
Bakke explained that he decided not to meet then prime minister Najib face-to-face to say he was resigning as 1MDB chairman and what were the reasons for the resignation.
“I thought about that, but I decided against it, but I wasn’t comfortable. In my mind, I had this feeling that the PM was part of this scheme of things,” he told the High Court.
Asked to specify what scheme of things he was suspicious of Najib being involved in, Bakke said it was how Najib was pushing the 1MDB board into making a decision on approving 1MDB’s joint venture deal with PetroSaudi International within a short timeframe.
“That time, it was more fast-tracking the investment with PetroSaudi, the eagerness of getting the board and management to quickly work on this investment. And you know, also having Jho Low as part of that setting to convey certain messages and share details on the investment plan.
“So we all have kind of very uneasy feeling. Why this pressure, why the hurry wanting to get this executed,” Bakke explained.
The 1MDB board had first found out about the joint venture proposal — which would require 1MDB to pump in US$1 billion — in a board meeting on September 18, 2009, but Najib had on September 26, 2009 —- in a phone call on Low Taek Jho’s handphone to Bakke —- urged the 1MDB board to firm up a decision quickly for the joint venture deal to be signed by the end of the month (which was just a few days away). Najib’s phone call took place just before the 1MDB board’s meeting on September 26, 2009 to get updates on whether the 1MDB management had carried out the requested due diligence on the deal.
Asked by Najib’s lead defence lawyer Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah on what suspicion he had about the prime minister, Bakke then said: “That he would benefit from this”.
Confirming that he was saying that the prime minister would have “personal benefit” in the joint venture deal, Bakke also confirmed his suspicion that the prime minister had given such a short time for the 1MDB board to decide as he has a “personal interest” in the matter.
When Shafee suggested that he did not have “concrete proof” that then prime minister Najib had a personal interest in the joint venture, Bakke said he did not have such proof at that point in time based on the information available then.
Explaining his suspicions about the 1MDB management over how it had handled the US$1 billion deal by going against the 1MDB board’s instructions, Bakke said he had concluded that the 1MDB management “was taking instructions from outside the board” — namely Low and also Najib — to ignore and not comply with the 1MDB’s board instructions.
In response to Shafee’s challenge on what clue he had to suspect Najib of instructing the 1MDB management not to listen to the 1MDB board, Bakke explained that this was based on factors such as the haste in which the US$1 billion investment was made and Jho Low’s coordinating role and the pressure on the 1MDB board to firm up its decision on the deal.
Later at one point, Shafee claimed that the 1MDB management were acting on their own either for their own purposes or to aid Low, further arguing that Bakke had no evidence that then prime minister Najib was the “puppetmaster” of making the 1MDB management move as he wished.
Asked by Shafee why he did not confront Najib to clear the air, Bakke then said he did not feel comfortable meeting Najib to inform about his resignation.
“You see, after we found out about the splitting of the US$1 billion by management on October 3 (2009), I sent my text message to the PM explaining everything, but didn’t really feel comfortable to go and see him in person. That was the decision I made, I took the stand because I didn’t feel good seeing him. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I just didn’t feel comfortable. That was my decision,” he said.
Shafee then suggested that Bakke was merely merajuk or sulking in not wanting to meet the prime minister, disputing Bakke’s suspicion of Najib over the irregularities in the investment using US$1 billion of 1MDB funds.
Shafee: You merajuk, I don’t want to see the PM, that’s what you did.
Bakke: Merajuk is the wrong choice of word.
As Shafee continued to insist that Bakke was merajuk, Bakke said the lawyer could said whatever he wanted but maintained that this was a “wrong choice of words”.
Shafee then said a responsible chairman of 1MDB should have told the prime minister face-to-face about what was happening in 1MDB and to say that “if you don’t seize it, now we are going to go down the drain”, and suggested that it was unreasonable for Bakke to have relied on a SMS or text message that may or may not have reached Najib.
Bakke then said he had no comment to this.
While confirming that he continued to meet then prime minister Najib regularly every two weeks on Felda matters after having resigned as 1MDB chairman, Bakke explained that he did not speak about his 1MDB resignation to Najib in any of those subsequent meetings.
“That time I had already resigned, he’s never asked me until today why did I resign, I deemed its appropriate not to broach the subject because I had already resigned, I had no locus standi,” he said.
Later at another point when the judge noted that Shafee was asking about the same matter — of whether Bakke suspected the 1MDB management of being involved in criminalities — in a different way, Bakke remarked: “I think Tan Sri (Shafee) is really taking me on a rollercoaster ride and coming back to the same starting point.”
Shafee then said he hates rollercoasters and had never been on one and had no intention to bring Bakke on a rollercoaster ride.
Although the plan was purportedly for the joint venture to be signed by Najib and Saudi Arabia’s then ruler King Abdullah on behalf of 1MDB and PetroSaudi International (PSI) Limited in a signing ceremony, the joint venture agreement dated September 28, 2009 was in the end signed by 1MDB CEO Datuk Shahrol Azral Ibrahim Halmi on behalf of 1MDB and PSI CEO Tarek Obaid on behalf of the similar-sounding firm PetroSaudi Holdings (Cayman) Limited.
After the joint venture deal had already been signed, Bakke today said that a signing ceremony took place in November 2009 if he was not mistaken and when he had already left the 1MDB board.
While this event was attended by Saudi royalty Prince Turki and Najib and other guests, Bakke said he did not meet Najib at this event.
“No, because my movements were closely monitored by one of the 1MDB employees, he followed me everywhere, even to the toilet. I was closely monitored by one of the 1MDB employees from the time I arrived at the office right until I left. It was at the office of 1MDB,” he said, but did not know why this 1MDB personnel was following him around.
“I didn’t see him (Najib), he was a guest of honour, he was present there, but I was nowhere close to him,” he said, agreeing that he was suggesting he had no chance to meet Najib there as he was being followed by the 1MDB personnel.
Asked if he, as former 1MDB chairman, had told anyone he wanted to see Najib at the event, Bakke replied: “You see, after I resigned from the company, I said to myself I’m not going to get involved at all in 1MDB. It’s something I want to put behind me, anything relating to 1MDB certainly is not something I would be interested to follow up.”
Bakke said he had attended the event as invited, out of respect to 1MDB board members and its shareholder. He confirmed he did not attempt to see Najib at this event.
Bakke said he did not think the 1MDB personnel would have dared to stop him from meeting Najib if he had attempted to do so.
Najib’s 1MDB trial before High Court judge Datuk Collin Lawrence Sequerah resumes tomorrow.